Netflix’s new original, ‘You’ has been an absolute hit. Everyone’s watching it. Even your mum is probably watching it. Many outlets are saying that both ‘You’ and ‘Birdbox’ have shown that Netflix still has plenty of clout in producing new content. To me, it looked to be a promising interpretation of the eponymous novel (which I admittedly have not read), exploring the depths of love from the perspective of a certifiable psychopath. For all of the hardcore ‘Gossip Girl’ fans out there (me again), it was also another opportunity to stare in admiration at Penn Badgley’s impossibly shaped cheekbones and have our hearts melt at his romantic optimism. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the promising concept that ‘You’ started with is let down by a lukewarm, messy and incoherent show that doesn’t do Caroline Kepnes justice.
Warning: this contains some serious spoilers so, if you’re intent on subjecting yourself to the rest of this half-baked, patchwork pantomime, then I suggest you go do it right now so you can come back and find out exactly what’s wrong with it.
Just before I go on, I want to say that there were a lot of elements of ‘You’ that I did like. The way that the framing of the story makes us sympathetic to Joe Goldberg’s psychopathy is highly commendable, as is a large majority of the actual script, especially the interplay between spoken word and Joe’s inner monologue. Similarly, the historical mapping of Candace and the impact on the story we see was interesting and well-constructed and, as a bona fide literature nerd, I enjoyed the literary references that are indiscriminately thrown around.
It’s all down-hill from here…
Unfortunately, aside from Joe and (for the most part) Beck, these positives were somewhat ruined by the (presumably deliberate) caricatures that the former two spend their time dealing with. I stop short of saying characters because none of these other players really have anything interesting to say for themselves; they are all just a mish-mash of over-exaggerated tropes of stereotypically bad people.
Benji plays the douchebag ex-boyfriend, a trust-fund puppy who conveniently packages all that’s wrong with a wealthy and toxic masculinity; Peach is the jealous, very rich, two-faced, psychosomatically-suicidal socialite, providing some extra romantic competition; Annika and Lynn, used to show Beck’s failings in her ability to choose good social company, are generic and boring, so generic in fact that they became laughably inconsequential; and even Beck slides comfortably into the role of the stereotypical, post-grad literature student, posting a ‘best life’ on social media to compensate for her inability to sit down and do any productive work, all-the-while harbouring daddy issues that become expressed in her poetry and her sexual tastes – I can’t be the only one that found the thing about the red pancake spoon horrifying? Without a core of authentic, three-dimensional characters, ‘You’ is straightaway putting itself at a disadvantage.
And just when these boring half-people start to interact in interesting ways, ‘You’ puts a stop to that…
As the narrative continues, opportunities to create really fascinating relationships for Joe to have to navigate present themselves, but they’re destroyed and forgotten in a heartbeat in the interest of hacking away to forcibly sculpt the Joe and Beck storyline. Ron’s recognition of Joe’s utter lack of social compassion, informed by his work in post-law enforcement, could have been a chance to explore Joe’s limits by forcing him to contend with someone who sees through the façade.
But instead, Ron is plucked from the show outside of the camera’s view to progress Joe’s new relationship with Karen. Similarly, Peach’s discovery of a concussed and totally delusional Joe in her house (a really tense and almost good episode) laid the groundwork for a cold war-esque relationship of mutually-assured destruction that would have been more far more logical and in sync with the vibe of the show. Instead, (spoilers) her murder ruined that chance and instead haphazardly forged the path to the seemingly off-key ‘Beck sleeps with her therapist’ plot line. I can see the need to explore infidelity, owing to the pre-story of Candace, but the jump to Beck sleeping with Dr Nicky, is pretty absurd, not to mention illegal.
Does ‘You’ take place in a universe where the cops are really just vegetables grown in Joe’s fake secret garden?
This is my biggest bone of contention with ‘You’: how the hell does Joe get away with some of the stuff he does? How does no-one find the rock with Peach’s blood (and surely Joe’s fingerprints?!) which he used in his first, abortive murder attempt? What about the quantity of Benji’s genetic information that would be left over in the bookstore basement? That is unless Joe took to it with industrial strength bleach off-screen, but even then forensic testing would reveal that.
And it wouldn’t be a crazy jump for the police to check the bookstore out, seeing as Joe continues to use Benji’s social media accounts from his phone which would ping the cell phone towers in that area. That’s all aside from the fact that, even though Joe continues to tweet as Benji, none of his friends or even his freakin’ business partner have actually seen and/or heard from Benji, and that no-one has reported him missing. Did no-one think it strange that months go by and, after being so invested in his company at the start of the series, Benji no longer cares about his soda empire ambitions? All of that is even independent of the serial killer’s shopping list Joe gives to Paco that gets handed straight to the cops and still no-one puts it together.
‘You’ is addictive watching, I’ll give it that, and it isn’t totally irredeemable. But unfortunately, ‘You’ has glaring holes that no amount of Dexter-style inner monologing can fix. It’s close to being good, but the lack of engaging characters combined with a the pick’n’mix approach to the continuity of the show makes it another comfortably average Netflix offering.